Museum official resigns her post

Banneker coordinator notes bickering by commission, volunteers

September 22, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Four months after the director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum was fired with less than a year on the job, the museum's program and events coordinator has resigned in frustration with bureaucratic bickering she says is hampering the institution.

"To me, the museum is so much more important than these conflicts," said Dera E. Fuller, who spent 19 months at the Annapolis museum before resigning last week. "I didn't see any real growth there. The creativity is gone."

Fuller said continuing disputes between the state-appointed commission that oversees the museum and a volunteer fund-raising group contributed to her decision.

"I think we're headed in the right direction," said Carroll Hynson Jr., chairman of the Commission on African-American History and Culture.

That assessment is not shared by Erroll E. Brown Sr., who is president of the Banneker-Douglass Museum Foundation, a private fund-raising and volunteer group that has clashed repeatedly with the commission in the past two years over personnel changes and the future of the museum.

"The situation at the museum is very bleak right now," said Brown.

He blamed the problems on lack of interest shown by the nine-member commission and the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which finances the museum.

Fuller "is going to be missed," Brown said. "The foundation is very dissatisfied as to what is going on now."

Fuller said the small museum, which houses one of the country's most extensive collections of African-American artifacts, has lost its focus.

"I just don't see where Banneker is going," she said. "The picture is very cloudy to me.

"To have been at Banneker-Douglass was a wonderful experience for me. I was right at the hub of African-American history."

Fuller organized events for Black History Month and Kwanzaa, arranged musical performances and developed student activities.

"I just want to see the museum be successful and all of the foolishness to be put aside," she said.

Tensions between the groups surfaced when popular museum director Ronald L. Sharps was fired two years ago. At the time, foundation members said the commission and state officials intended to close the museum.

When the commission fired Sharps' replacement, Rosalind D. Savage, in May, the conflict intensified.

Fuller said much of the tension stems from an unwillingness on the part of the commission and the museum staff to deal seriously with the foundation.

"The concept is no one should deal with the foundation," she said. "I don't care what anyone says, the foundation has a genuine love for that museum.

"They're not taken seriously because a lot of them are elderly," Fuller said of the foundation members. "So many of them were christened and married there."

The museum is housed in what was once the Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church.

A July 20 letter from Tonya Hardy, the interim museum director, to Brown appears to suggest that the foundation is excluded from certain aspects of the museum's operation.

In the letter, Hardy told Brown that the foundation may not receive mail at the museum and directed him not to directly contact commission members. "All points pertaining to the Banneker-Douglass Museum should be directed to me," she wrote.

Hynson said his group works with the foundation under guidelines of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

"The foundation is still an organization that we will continue to work with, and I have a great deal of admiration and respect for the organization," he said.

Hynson dismissed assertions that the museum is in trouble, pointing to recent improvements such as the repaving at the entrance and an interior paint job. He expects work to begin soon on a 10,000-square-foot expansion.

He is reviewing applications for the directorship and plans to fill the position by the end of the year.

Hynson said the commission has received 10 applications for the job, which pays about $50,000 a year. The commission will select three finalists.

Brown said he was not impressed with the latest developments at the museum.

"They're not developing any new exhibits from our collection," he said. "The bottom line is, the museum is falling apart at the seams."

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